This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it does. I’m not thinking about the actual war in Gaza – that’s bad enough.
It’s the Jewish civil war over Israel, a civil war that includes both sides appealing to non-Jews and American foreign policy.
Of course, it’s also about the Holocaust, that vast swathe of traumatized Jewish identity that keeps breaking open even as Israel’s occupation regime and war machine go haywire.
The veterans of Holocaust discourse are older now, all in their eighties, but periodically they’re trotted out to support Israel – especially when there isn’t any viable way of doing so.
Call it the Holocaust trump card. Elie Wiesel’s wild.
Elie Wiesel can’t help himself. If he hasn’t debased himself and his cause enough on the subject of Israel in recent years, his latest is a stunner.
Teaming up with Shmuley Boteach, a rabbi whose book on Kosher sex made a splash some years ago and has been gaming right ever since, Wiesel has just penned a paid statement making the rounds of major newspapers and other media outlets.
Wiesel’s theme? “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,000 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn.”
The theme is a play on God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. With Israel’s invasion of Gaza, God’s last minute decision to let Isaac live doesn’t work at all.
The press release lays out Wiesel’s campaign:
New York, NY August 1, 2014 – In a stirring advertising campaign organized by Rabbi Shmuley’s organization, This World: The Values Network, which seeks to disseminate universal Jewish values in politics, media, and culture as well as defend the State of Israel, Nobel Peace Laureate, Elie Wiesel, invokes the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac to frame the modern conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Wiesel states that though Abraham lifts his knife to sacrifice his own son Isaac, his hand is stayed by God’s own command, thereby rejecting child sacrifice forever. He added that, “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn.” Prof. Wiesel argues that while the suffering of those in Gaza is immense and a true tragedy, the blame lies solely with Hamas who use children as human shields and stores rockets and ammunitions in nurseries, schools, hospitals, and family homes.
Wiesel’s autobiographical classic, Night, has been read by millions. It’s required reading for vast numbers of American school children. Night’s new translation even received Oprah’s seal of approval.
But the Jewish establishment doesn’t seem to get it. Playing the Holocaust trump card isn’t working anymore. Few respond to their Holocaust pleadings as they did almost reflexively decades ago.
Call it cognitive dissonance – using Jewish suffering as a rallying call while Jews causing suffering to others in the name of that suffering is too confusing for most folks. Say the Holocaust and people think Gaza. It isn’t a comparison. It’s a deep revulsion to violence in the name of innocents suffering.
The problem is the news that keeps coming from Israel. Israel’s bombing of residential areas, hospitals and UN schools and shelters is international news. In Gaza, even after Israel’s proclaimed “withdrawal,” the death toll mounts. Among the dead are children sacrificed for Israel’s obvious goal – to deny Palestinians statehood, their political and human rights, which include the right to resist occupation.
The question for Elie Wiesel and the Jewish establishment is not about Abraham’s binding of Isaac – a treasure trove for interpreters of all types – but how many Palestinians children in Gaza will be sacrificed on the altar of Israel’s national security.
If God stayed Abraham’s knife, who will stay Israel’s?